[Jane Austen famously wrote, ‘One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other.’ For the purposes of the following excerpt from Arnold Lunn’s And Yet So New, 1958, we propose to paraphrase her as follows: One half of the world cannot understand the satisfactions and disinclinations of the other. Arnold Lunn (1888-1974) was one of those fortunate few who have been able to discover a life-long interest—in fact, three interests: mountain climbing, Alpine skiing and, after his conversion, Catholic apologetics. Eventually, writing books on one or other of these enthusiasms is how he earned his living. In his younger days, however, he and his brothers worked for their father who founded (and lost) one of the first travel agencies to offer organized tours to the Continent. Henry Lunn was a born entrepreneur, but not, unfortunately, a particularly good businessman. His son was neither entrepreneur nor businessman, but brilliantly successful at finding enjoyment in life. Indeed, he would probably cheerfully have admitted to feeling a bit guilty for spending so much of his time doing what he enjoyed. In the passage below he uses anecdotes about himself, Ronald Knox (an Anglican priest famous as a classicist and a Roman convert) and Samuel Johnson to explain (and perhaps excuse) on the basis of individuality certain kinds of behaviour that might easily attract disapproval.]
Like a cat, [Ronald Knox] was only really happy in familiar surroundings, and, of course, on his travels he missed the expert helpers whom the born helpee always seems, sooner or later, to attract. This distinction between the helper whose vocation it is to help and the helpee who attracts helpers is my own modest contribution to the noble science of psychiatry. Just as there is a feminine streak in all but the most aggressively masculine of men, so most of us have our helper and helpee sides, but pure types are not unknown, Rainer Maria Rilke, for instance, a helpee in whom it would have been impossible to detect the faintest alloy of helpfulness. In his response to people’s deepest needs Knox was, as no one knew better than I, a superb and selfless helper, but in more mundane matters he was a helpee, and thus provided the various helpers who looked after him with ample scope for their particular talents. In my own case the dividing line between my helper and helpee sides coincides approximately with the snow-line. Above the snow-line a helper; below a helpee.
After my conversion I persuaded my father to invite a priest to act as chaplain on our Hellenic Cruises, and in 1937 Knox allowed himself to be manoeuvred into acceptance. The real inducement was not the chance of seeing Greece but the fact that his intimate friends Douglas and Mia Woodruff and Daphne Acton were on the cruise.
When helper meets helpee a good time is had by all, but when helpee meets helpee there is a great sense of frustration and wasted talents, as indeed I discovered when I met Knox at the barrier of the Continental platform in Victoria Station. He handed over his tickets to me and said, “You know all about these things.” I took them reluctantly.
“Ronnie,” I said severely, “you recently wrote a light essay on helpfulness, which you analysed as 40% love of organizing other people’s lives, 30% desire for praise, 20% exhibitionism and only 10% pure altruism. I will do what I can to look after you on this cruise provided that it is quite clearly understood that my motives are 95% altruistic.”
At that moment I should have been very happy to welcome as a fellow-traveller a born helper whom I had first met on the cross-Channel steamer to Calais. At the time I was still actively associated with the travel firm which my father founded, and which now belongs to other people. I was engrossed in a book when I was recalled to the outer world by a tap on my shoulder.
“Do you propose,” asked a brisk and attractive young woman, “to spend the night on this ship? Because if not you had better take note of the fact that we’re at Calais. Is this your first visit to the Continent?”
I replied—God help me—that it was. You see, the born helpee is always tempted to exaggerate his helplessness when he has the luck to run into a born helper. The helper collected a porter, took me through the customs, found me a corner seat, and booked me a reservation for the first service in the dining car.
“You know,” she remarked as we sat down to dinner, “you ought not to travel alone. You should join one of Lunn’s conducted tours. I did once, just to learn the ropes. Of course now I can look after myself.”
“You’d make a wonderful conductor,” I said. “Have you ever thought of applying for a job with Lunn’s?”
“Well, actually my present job comes to an end next spring and I’d love to be one of their foreign representatives next summer, but I don’t know anybody in Lunn’s.”
“I know one of the directors, Arnold Lunn. In fact there is nobody I’m fonder of than Arnold Lunn and there is nothing he wouldn’t do for me.”
“What luck!” she exclaimed. “Will you give me an introduction to Mr. Lunn and tell him how good I am at looking after the helpless?”
So I gave her an introduction to myself and she got the job.
I discovered on this Hellenic Cruise that Knox was not easily moved, at least to articulate enthusiasm, by the beauties either of nature or of art. I was standing with him in the corridor as our train left Lucerne. It was a perfect summer morning and beyond the enchantment of the lake and beyond the green foothills of the Brünig the triple-crested Wetterhorn invaded the blue glory of an Alpine sky. Annoyed by Knox’s lack-lustre reactions I exclaimed, “Don’t sneer at the Wetterhorn, Ronnie.”
“He’s not sneering at the Wetterhorn,” said Douglas Woodruff, “he’s putting up his lorgnettes and asking, ‘Do we know the Wetterhorn?’”
Some days later I was standing beside Knox as we sailed up Phaleron Bay. It was a perfect morning. Knox had never been to Greece and I was curious to discover whether the sacred shrines of Hellenism, Athens and the Acropolis, could evoke in him visible enthusiasm, but his reaction to Athens was not noticeably more enthusiastic than to the Wetterhorn. I felt like poor Boswell, who had hoped in vain that something in Scotland would stir Johnson to enthusiasm, and who, when they crossed the Irish Channel and visited the Giant’s Causeway, exclaimed with undiminished hopefulness, “Surely, sir, this is worth coming to see?”
“Worth seeing,” said Johnson, “but not worth coming to see.” I quoted this comment to Knox. He smiled. “That’s what I feel,” he said, “about anything abroad.”
Click HERE to reach
the associated topic for this webpage.
For more topics click HERE.